Cisco beefs up SD-WAN arsenal with new Catalyst edge platform, SASE integration

Cisco unveiled a fresh set of enhancements for its SD-WAN portfolio, including a new model of its Catalyst 8500 edge platform and increased convergence with its SASE offering.

With these upgrades, Dell’Oro Group Research Director Mauricio Sanchez thinks Cisco wants to establish itself as a leader in the SD-WAN market. While Cisco is already well-positioned within SD-WAN, it doesn’t have the “huge lead” that it does in the access routing market, he told Fierce.

The biggest takeaway from Cisco’s latest announcement, Sanchez continued, is that the vendor is urging customers to transition from the legacy Integrated Service Router (ISR) product suite to the Catalyst 8500 series. Cisco back in November announced end-of-life dates for a number of the ISR platforms.

“The Catalyst has been around for a couple of years, but a lot of the business is still anchored to the traditional ISR side of the family,” he said. “Cisco, in the course of the next 18 months, is going to swap out this revenue engine that has been the ISR with the Catalyst, which is a much more modern architecture.”

Along with boasting 100G speeds, Cisco said the new Catalyst 8500-20X6C model can be used for multi-tenancy applications, as a services edge for private cloud infrastructure or as a multi-cloud gateway for colocation spaces. The platform also comes with more connectivity ports.

Sanchez explained Cisco “has to convince customers that the Catalyst is now the platform going forward for all enterprise access routing needs,” so that they don’t go to competitors to obtain SD-WAN services.

Another key update from Cisco is that its Viptela SD-WAN platform can now be integrated with the Cisco+ Secure Connect SASE product. Sanchez said Viptela, which Cisco acquired back in 2017, is the “source for [Cisco’s] top shelf SD-WAN solution.”

“They basically bolted it on and squeezed it into [the ISR] platform. And that platform has worked well but it wasn’t designed from the start to be an SD-WAN software engine,” he said. He added the Catalyst series allows the Viptela software “to shine” in terms of performance.

Integrating Viptela with Cisco+ Secure Connect will help Cisco move along on the SASE front, Sanchez added. Originally, the company’s unified SASE solution was anchored to the Meraki side, but now Cisco can “go up the customer stack to demonstrate integration with the higher-end enterprise Viptela solution.”

But whether Cisco can pull a larger share of the SASE market remains to be seen. As of now, Cisco’s SASE operations are mainly rooted in the small and midsize business (SMB) side of the market, noted Sanchez, whereas the Viptela SD-WAN platform “tends to live” within larger enterprise networks.

“It’s now got a bridge and connection point between those two different solutions, which strategically is a good thing,” he said. “In the near term, I don’t see this changing the ongoing success of Cisco’s trajectory in the SASE landscape.”

Roy Chua, principal analyst at AvidThink, also highlighted the convergence across Cisco’s secure access and SD-WAN/SASE offerings.

“Cisco is attempting to pull together adjacent solutions under a single umbrella to allow for more consistent policies, reducing siloes of access between product lines,” Chua told Fierce. “They're trying to provide a single management framework across multiple locations from home offices to branches to campuses.”

In a further attempt to simplify the SD-WAN process, Cisco added template-based automation to its vManage network management dashboard. The feature speeds up central configuration of the SD-WAN fabric, Chua said, and it addresses “user complaints about the complexity of managing policies across a large network.”

On the hybrid work front, Cisco has integrated the Catalyst Wireless Gateway device with its SD-WAN Remote Access solution. Chua said the feature “brings teleworkers under the same SD-WAN management umbrella so they can apply unified policies across HQ, branches, home offices.”